White House responds to U.S. stocks plummeting

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK, Feb 5 (Reuters) - As U.S. stocks plunged on Monday, President Donald Trump was speaking at an event in Ohio but noticeably not taking credit for the market despite doing so repeatedly when stocks were rising.

The stark contrast was a sign that Trump may be absorbing a tough message, underscored by former White House advisers, that American presidents traditionally have avoided commenting directly on Wall Street's fickle trends.

Gene Sperling, a top economic adviser to Democratic former presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, said Trump erred in recent months by focusing so heavily on the stock market.

"Even though the stock market tripled under Bill Clinton, his view was that you should always focus your policies and your public messages on bread-and-butter kitchen table issues ... and that focusing on the stock market would take your eye off the real economy," Sperling said.

White House spokesman Raj Shah, in an adjustment to the administration's message on stocks, told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Trump's speaking event in Ohio, "Look, markets do fluctuate in the short term. We all know that ... But the fundamentals of this economy are very strong and they're headed in the right direction."

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Floor reactions to stock market plunge
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Floor reactions to stock market plunge
A trader looks at a screen that displays the Dow Jones Industrial Average on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, (NYSE) in New York, U.S., February 5, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., on Monday, Feb. 5, 2018. U.S. stocks plunged, sending the Dow Jones Industrial Average down almost 1,600 points, as major averages erased gains for the year.�Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A trader works on the floor at the closing bell of the Dow Industrial Average at the New York Stock Exchange on February 5, 2018 in New York. Wall Street stocks endured a brutal session Monday, with the Dow seeing one of its steepest ever one-day point drops, as the heady bullishness of early 2018 gave way to extreme volatility. / AFP PHOTO / Bryan R. Smith (Photo credit should read BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images)
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., on Monday, Feb. 5, 2018. U.S. stocks plunged, sending the Dow Jones Industrial Average down almost 1,600 points, as major averages erased gains for the year.�Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A monitor displays stock information on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., on Monday, Feb. 5, 2018. U.S. stocks plunged, sending the Dow Jones Industrial Average down almost 1,600 points, as major averages erased gains for the year.�Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg via Getty Images
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 05: Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on February 5, 2018 in New York City. Following Fridays's over 600 point drop, the Dow Jones Industrial Average briefly fell over 1500 points in afternoon trading. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., on Monday, Feb. 5, 2018. U.S. stocks plunged, sending the Dow Jones Industrial Average down almost 1,600 points, as major averages erased gains for the year.�Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg via Getty Images
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 05: Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on February 5, 2018 in New York City. Following Fridays's over 600 point drop, the Dow Jones Industrial Average briefly fell over 1500 points in afternoon trading. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 05: Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on February 5, 2018 in New York City. Following Fridays's over 600 point drop, the Dow Jones Industrial Average briefly fell over 1500 points in afternoon trading. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 05: Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on February 5, 2018 in New York City. Following Fridays's over 600 point drop, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell over 300 points after the Opening Bell. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 05: Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on February 5, 2018 in New York City. Following Fridays's over 600 point drop, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell over 300 points after the Opening Bell. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
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Throughout a speech at a factory in Blue Ash, Ohio, Trump made no mention of stock markets. That departed sharply from past practice.

In his State of the Union address last week, Trump said, "The stock market has smashed one record after another, gaining $8 trillion and more in value in just this short period of time."

 

'TREMENDOUS BENEFITS'

On Jan. 7, he wrote on Twitter, "The Stock Market has been creating tremendous benefits for our country in the form of not only Record Setting Stock Prices, but present and future Jobs, Jobs, Jobs. Seven TRILLION dollars of value created since our big election win!"

Three days before that, he tweeted, "Dow just crashes through 25,000. Congrats! Big cuts in unnecessary regulations continuing." He had sent similar tweets for months.

The Republican president told Reuters in a Jan. 17 interview he has been getting kudos from people grateful for increased 401(k) retirement plan values and he believed the rise would not have happened if his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton had won the 2016 presidential election.

"If the Democrats won the election, the stock market would have gone down 50 percent from where it was, and now look at the percentage increase. It's a record increase," Trump said.

Once the markets closed, the White House issued a statement saying Trump's focus is "on our long-term economic fundamentals, which remain exceptionally strong, with strengthening U.S. economic growth, historically low unemployment, and increasing wages for American workers."

"The president's tax cuts and regulatory reforms will further enhance the U.S. economy and continue to increase prosperity for the American people," White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said.

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Companies that have given bonuses, increased pay since tax bill passed
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Companies that have given bonuses, increased pay since tax bill passed

Walmart

(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Apple Inc.

(Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Comcast 

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Starbucks

(Photo by Zhang Peng/LightRocket via Getty Images)

American Airlines

(REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)

AT&T

(REUTERS/Rick Wilking

The Walt Disney Co.

(REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni)

Sinclair Broadcast

(Photo via Facebook)

Bank of America

(BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images)

Alaska Airlines

(Photo by FG/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)

BB&T bank

(REUTERS/Jim Young)

JetBlue 

(REUTERS/Brian Snyder)

Fifth Third Bank

(REUTERS/Joe Skipper)

Nationwide

(Photo via Facebook)

PNC Financial

(Christopher Dilts/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Southwest Airlines

(REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson)

US Bancorp

(Christopher Dilts/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Boeing 

(REUTERS/Jim Young)

JPMorgan Chase

(Daniel Tepper/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Wells Fargo & Co.

(Daniel Tepper/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Home Depot

(EDUARDO MUNOZ ALVAREZ/AFP/Getty Images)

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The benchmark Dow Jones industrial average soared 42 percent between Election Day 2016, when Trump won the presidency, and its historic peak a week ago above 26,400.

On Monday, the Dow fell to below 24,000 but regained some of its midday losses to close at 24,345. In the past five trading days, the index has erased all its gains since late November.

The benchmark S&P 500 has pulled back more than 6 percent from a Jan. 26 record high.

The "Trump rally," as some traders have dubbed it, has coincided with a sweeping tax code overhaul approved in December, which slashed corporate taxes, and a deregulation push.

The S&P 500 rose 34 percent from Trump's election to its recent high.

But stocks have been climbing since March 2009, when Obama inherited a serious financial crisis and the worst economic recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s. At that time, the Dow was trading at around 6,500.

Trump has also criticized his predecessor Obama's effect on markets. In November 2012, Trump tweeted, "The stock market and U.S. dollar are both plunging today. Welcome to @BarackObama's second term."

The S&P 500 rose 126 percent from Obama's 2008 election to his final day in office in 2017.

Former Obama press secretary Jay Carney on Monday tweeted, "Good time to recall that in the previous administration, we NEVER boasted about the stock market -- even though the Dow more than doubled on Obama's watch -- because we knew two things: 1) the stock market is not the economy; and 2) if you claim the rise, you own the fall."

Doug Holtz-Eakin, president of the American Action Forum and a former economic adviser to 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain, said, "The president shouldn't comment about the stock market. Indeed if anyone is going to make major pronouncements about economic data, it should be the Treasury secretary or the agency releasing the data, so if they get it wrong you can get rid of them. You don't want the president owning those things."

(Reporting by Steve Holland in Washington and Trevor Hunnicutt in New York; Writing by Kevin Drawbaugh; Editing by Will Dunham and James Dalgleish)

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